The tumor microenvironment (TME) is composed of dynamic and complex networks composed of matrix substrates, extracellular matrix (ECM), non-malignant cells, and tumor cells. The TME is in constant evolution during the disease progression, most notably through gradual stiffening of the stroma. Within the tumor, increased ECM stiffness drives tumor growth and metastatic events. However, classic in vitro strategies to study the TME in cancer lack the complexity to fully replicate the TME. The quest to understand how the mechanical, geometrical, and biochemical environment of cells impacts their behavior and fate has been a major force driving the recent development of new technologies in cell biology research. Despite rapid advances in this field, many challenges remain in order to bridge the gap between the classical culture dish and the biological reality of actual tissue. Microfabrication coupled with microfluidic approaches aim to engineer the actual complexity of the TME. Moreover, TME bioengineering allows artificial modulations with single or multiple cues to study different phenomena occurring in vivo. Some innovative cutting-edge tools and new microfluidic approaches could have an important impact on the fields of biology and medicine by bringing deeper understanding of the TME, cell behavior, and drug effects.
Open Access : Micromachines 2019, 10(6), 418; https://doi.org/10.3390/mi10060418